Smile, this is Bombay

Award-winning Photographer Pablo Bartholomew recounts his favourite memories of the city that provided him an escape from what he had known

For Delhi-based photographer Pablo Bartholomew, Bombay, now Mumbai, provided an escape from the claustrophobia he had begun to associate with the city he grew up in.

Roadside Photo Studio, Bombay - circa 1979. Pics Courtesy Pablo Bartholomew

"Everybody knew everybody; Delhi was a very small circle of people," he says over the telephone from the capital city, where Chronicles of a Past Life, his collection of photographs on Mumbai is on display.

The black and white photographs offer an insight into the people and places that lend colour to the vibrant city of Mumbai in the 1970s and '80s.

"Bombay is a special place. It is a city that people come to make a better life; to escape their environments no matter where they are from."

Watchmaker, Bombay - circa 1979

Bartholomew, who dropped out of school at the age of 15, was aware that his decision to follow his own path in life would comes with its set of consequences.

"In a professional sense, it made sense to come to Bombay. If you look at the film or advertising industries, for instance, you see that people from all parts of the country come there to make a living."

As Bartholomew's work now takes him around the world, he visits the city less often than he might like, but when he does he makes it a point to stop by the Olympia Coffee House in Colaba.

"I usually order a Mutton Masala with rotis or have a breakfast of kheema-pao there." Sahiba in Bandra for its Gomantak cuisine is another one of the award-winning photojournalist's favourite haunts.

Taxi Driver with Passengers, Bombay - circa 1979

Colaba, Fort and Ballard Estate are the places fused with the most nostalgia for the 56-year-old photographer. "Primarily because there is a sense of familiarity with these places."

Ways of seeing
About the impact that Mumbai has on its people, he says, "When you get into a physical space with people that is dense, packed and charged with activity, it affects people. Take the example of the taxi driver, he has to look at single, independent women differently than he would in his village."

Capital Talkies Buidling, Bombay - circa 1979

His advice to aspiring photographers is to stick with their day jobs. "I know what the struggle can be. It's easier if you negotiate it differently and find time for your passion," he offers.

Reluctant to compare Mumbai to New York, he says, "Geographically, they are quite similar sort of banana-shaped cities by the sea but they are very different, in terms of their social fabric. Bombay is far more complex."

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